Vote of the week: After Disney's Avatar news, what should Universal Orlando do next?

September 23, 2011, 8:38 AM · Now that Disney's dropped the news that it is bringing Avatar to Disney's Animal Kingdom, how should Universal Orlando respond?

Universal Orlando Resort

I love when theme parks get aggressive competing with each other, whether it be on new attractions, price, service - or all of those. The winners in those battles are always the fans. Whether you like Avatar (the movie), or not, I hope that you'll at least get excited that Disney's optimistic enough about the future of its theme park business to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a richly themed new land for one of its U.S. theme parks.

Avatar skeptics also should remember that theme park designers sometime out-do their source material. Universal's Waterworld show, for example, provides far more excitement than the Kevin Coster bomb of a movie it was based upon ever did.

I also hope that fans will be excited at the possibility that Universal Orlando won't just take this lying down, but accept Disney's challenge and come up with another blockbuster attraction to build upon the momentum it earned with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

But what, specifically, should Universal do? Should it announce a major new expansion of Harry Potter? Should Universal bring Transformers to Orlando? Or should it secure the rights to a major new franchise, such as Lord of the Rings? (Or Ice Age? Or Kung Fu Panda? Or whatever else you can imagine.)

That's our vote of the week.

In the comments, I'd love to hear some specifics about what new attractions you want to see from the Orlando theme parks. What are you most looking forward to, and what more do the Orlando-area theme parks need to offer to get you to plan another vacation?

Thanks for voting, and thanks for reading Theme Park Insider.

Replies (33)

September 23, 2011 at 8:44 AM · If I had to choose between AVATARland and possibly Diagon Alley and the rumored Gringotts Wizarding Bank thrill ride, I would choose Potter any day. I think Universal is safe.
September 23, 2011 at 8:57 AM · Re-theme the WWOHP to something better!
September 23, 2011 at 9:11 AM · Definatly a WWOHP eexpansion. And to that ananoymous person, why would you want WWOHP re-themed?
September 23, 2011 at 9:13 AM · I picked expanding WWoHP but, unlike many, I hope they don't add another thrill ride. Apart from Flight of the Hippogriff, the rides already cater to thrill hungry guests. A nice relaxing dark ride or show would keep me at bay. Sure, I would love to visit Gringotts and ride through the vaults but my stomach wouldn't forgive me if I rode.
September 23, 2011 at 9:39 AM · Definitely more Potter! I like the idea of a slower, quieter, more family friendly ride but with the same kind of incredible attention to detail as FJ.
Also, more shops! We LOVE the shops! I'd like a Hagrid's hut that you can go in, and a Hogwarts Express you can really ride!
September 23, 2011 at 9:41 AM · Speaking just briefly on Avatarland over at Animal Kingdom, I feel like it's too little too late to start that kind of project. That's a scary investment risk, especially if the two new Avatar movies don't live up to expectations. Here's hoping it will.

But, really, I kinda want to see them expand more on Potterland. I know that the whole point of Potterland is to be small and have that sort of rustic familiarity, but having more surface area to spread out all those people and more shops to sell things in is only a smart deal. I haven't even had the chance to visit the shops yet since I can't justify sitting in line for twenty minutes for Dhaka, Bangladesh: The Experience.

September 23, 2011 at 9:48 AM · My brain said expand Potter as that seems to be the logical choice given it's success...but went with my heart and voted for bringing in another hooked me with LOTR, Robert! Variety is the spice of life, so seeing something new is always a positive as long as it's well-executed.
September 23, 2011 at 10:14 AM · First bring Transformers over to the Studios park in the next two years, then expand WWOHP. Potter is still new. There are plenty of people who have yet to make the trip to IOA to visit the land. There's no sense in expanding it right now when it generates ticket sales and merchandise revenue just fine as it is. Studios could use a new blockbuster dark ride, and it makes practical business sense to build a ride that already has all of the R&D out of the way, aside from finding a suitable area to start construction. In between that time, announce an annual Potter weekends event, as well as potter hard ticket x-mas and halloween events. Capitalize on the franchise all that you can. Once Transformers opens, give it 6-12 months so as not to steal the spotlight from the transformers ride opening, and then announce the potter expansion. An original ride as well as show and eatery with more shops and perhaps another kiddie ride or play area would fill out the rest of that land quite nicely, and give it the much needed breathing room it requires. There's no need to get trigger happy and sign deals for new franchises when you still have great intellectual properties to draw upon for attractions. Not saying that Universal should lay still either. It's always a smart move to keep conversations going behind the scenes. Negotiations can take years. Building a foundation of good will can only help your cause with future acquisitions. A major move for Universal would be to sell off/negotiate the Marvel license back to Disney, which will happen one day anyway, and then turn around and acquire the DC comics license. Marvel Super Hero Island would then become DC Super Hero Island, and breathe new life into the area, without sacrificing the basic premise of the theme.
September 23, 2011 at 10:15 AM · Universal should double-down on Potter. It's a proven property that will draw in fans for generations to come. Expand it by putting in a dark ride for the kids, a bank coaster underground, a Wizards Duel "stunt" show, Hogwarts Express train ride, more shops, more restaurants.... we could go on and on, and it would all mint money.
If the next two Avatar movies are popular and very good, then Disney will look prescient. But if they're like the last two Matrix films then...
September 23, 2011 at 10:53 AM · I'd like to see them redo the Marvel Island into something else. What? I don't know. Not DC though. Six Flags would probably never let that go. Most of their rides are DC. I'd rather see them redo Marvel Island to a Tolkien inspired land. There's a lot they could do with that.
September 23, 2011 at 11:55 AM · Jorge from Orlando

How about universal do a sell/trade and give the rights to marvel to Disney and retheme marvel island to a much anticipated Star Wars land that would be great for both companies since Disney dosent really have an area right night to accomplish such a themed land

September 23, 2011 at 12:07 PM · Whether this diehard Spider-Man fan wants to admit it or not, Harry Potter is the savior of Universal Orlando. Definitely expand the Potterverse.
September 23, 2011 at 12:35 PM · I say leave Harry potter alone it's fine the way it is expand the studios re-theme rip ride rocket to fast and furious to make it fit the film studio theme.
September 23, 2011 at 12:43 PM · This is a tough one. Absolutely I would love to see WWoHP expanded. Diagon Alley, Gringotts ride, and a ridable Hogwarts Express would be fantastic!

However, LOTR would be amazing as well (I do not care for any other franchise), especially if it is done to the same level of care and detail as WWoHP. At the same time though, having a mass of tourists roaming through Rivendell or Lothlorien would just ruin the atmosphere, and Hobbiton wouldn't be practical if you build it to the scale it should be.

I guess I'm sticking to expanding WWoHP!

September 23, 2011 at 3:55 PM · For some reason, Dr. Niles left out two other options in his poll:

(1) Pay down their debt.

(2) Maintain the same corporate owner for more than ten minutes.

Seriously, there is no denying that the team at Universal Creative has consistently outpaced WDI since the opening of Islands of Adventure. Universal Creative is the GOLD STANDARD for innovation in theme park design.

"The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman," "Men in Black: Alien Attack," "Revenge of the Mummy" "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey." There is not a single WDW attraction that is anywhere near as innovative.

Even "Twister" demonstrates how Universal Creative is more committed to take an extraordinary risk at creating the (apparently) impossible theme park experience.

With the sole exception of the "Jungle Cruise" at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom the team at WDI has not even come close to the productions listed above.


When Islands of Adventure opened, Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas described the launch of the "Incredible Hulk" as "the best two seconds in theme park history" (maximum kudos to Joe Casey). I can't think of any Disney attraction that has opened in the previous ten (or maybe twenty) years that has earned (or deserved) that level of praise.

Someone on another thread referenced 'Avatar' as Disney's effort to "sustain" its audience. And that's fine. That's just fine. Fine for the Central Florida economy and fine for Walt Disney World’s business model which will (until my ashes are scattered across the world's "rivers of adventure”) remain head and shoulders ahead of any other Central Florida theme park.

But if success and achievement in attraction development is to be measured beyond clicks at the turnstiles, then the (so I am told) brilliant Chief Creative Officer (and former Jungle Cruise skipper) named John Alan Lasseter needs to step up and midwife a ride system and compatible concept that re-invents the theme park experience.

I am hoping that FULLY EMERSIVE attractions related to ‘Avatar’, an EPCOT showcase devoted to Brazil and an expanded Star Wars presence at Disney Hollywood Studios will elevate WDI to Universal Creative’s level of excellence.

And while he is brain-storming that burden, Mr. Lasseter should send a couple of maintenance workers out in an ironically named “john boat” to scrub the heads of the pachyderms in the elephant squeeze play. The rings of pond scum are just humiliating to the attraction, the park and the man behind the company name.

September 23, 2011 at 4:07 PM · For Avatar to work as a "Soarin" type attraction, which James Cameron alluded to, they will have to do much more than a copycat. I would like to ride an actual dragon creature. Otherwise, it will not be ambitious and Disney hasn't exactly wowed me lately although I do think Carsland is impressive in terms of scale, if not ride.

Universal needs another big ride to counter Avatar. I would think it wouldn't be too difficult. Just dust off Transformers and put it in Orlando at the same time Avatar opens. Add a transformers land to create a much bigger experience. Harry Potter would work too, but I see it as more of a near term add-on, which is more likelier to open well before Avatar. Harry Potter could benefit with another E-Ticket quality ride and not merely another repurposed attraction from the Lost Continent.

After Transformers and Harry Potter, Universal should open more franchises. Certainly, Lord of the Rings comes to mind, but I don't think it would work as a theme park attraction. Look at this chart. After Batman, Harry Potter, and Pirates, the pickings get very slim. Except for Batman, HP, and Twilight, it funny how Disney owns most remaining franchises.

So should Universal get rights to Batman from DC Comics?

Another thing, Universal needs to better cater to the emotional and sentimental crowd. Disney does this in spades. No one has an actual attachment to Universal. There is a lack of heart. Harry Potter does bridge this gap, but not enough.

September 23, 2011 at 4:45 PM · I'm not sure that best solution is an A or B or C. I think that Universal should (and probably already has plans to) expand WWOHP. The truth is that Potter has lots of longevity likely, but has lots more untapped potential.

At the same time, the Studios side of the park really needs more love. On any given day, the crowds are on the IOA side. They need to spread that crowd out again and a major addition to USO would do.

The Superheroes island at IOA draws a significant crowd. Why throw that away?

I think that A Tolkein area would be a brilliant move. It draws a different group than Potter. It has tons of potential merch sales to help support. As to where, I'd put it in the SF/Amity/Whatever is in the big theatre near Jaws (which generally sits empty.

The best part of Tolkein? It will irritate the daylights out of Disney.

September 23, 2011 at 4:46 PM · I think they really need to do all three. Between the acquiring of Avatar AND Marvel, along with the new Fantasyland Expansion, Disney has just made a big move. Universal can combat this if they expand WWOHP, bring in Transformers, and at least one new franchise (like Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Titanic, etc.)
September 23, 2011 at 4:46 PM · The studios should add a new land (Sci-Fi City) with Transformers and a coaster. Expand the Harry Potter land with Diagon Alley and a MagiQuest-type attraction where kids (and adults)can use their magic wands for real! The former idea will allure the fans of Avatar, and the latter idea will allure the fans of Fantasyland.
September 23, 2011 at 5:26 PM · I'm not sure if expanding the WWOHP works from a financial perspective.

Adding Potter to Islands of Adventure cost Universal a considerable amount, but the land will already be on it's way to recouping it's initial outlay, as demonstrated by the major increases in attendance seen at the resort.

But J.K Rowling's (and Universal Creative's, for that matter) obsession with perfection means that any expansion to the land would once again mean a major outlay of cash, and I'm finding it hard to believe that an expanded Wizarding World would lead to any significant increases in attendance or in-park spending compared to leaving it in it's current state.

Potter is a huge crowd draw as it is, leave it at that and move on the the next big project that will further add to Universal's staggering attendance increases.

September 23, 2011 at 5:32 PM · As for the question, I'd probably go with the Potter Expansion. I would like to see a Gringotts bank ride. I would think Transformers is most likely though.
TH Creative is spot on with his point on Universal Creative. Since IOA opened in 1999, Universal Creative has come up with numerous creative and innovative attractions (Spiderman, Dueling Dragons, Forbidden Journey, Men in Black, Revenge of the Mummy). Over that time, the only truly innovative attractions Disney has come up with are Mission:Space (which is such a flop that even the Official Birnbaum's guide pans the orange version), Everest (with a broken Yeti), and possibly Soarin'.
In the end though, Disney will probably always trump Universal for two reasons:1)the history/sentimentality of Disney, 2)the quantity of Disney World-even if Universal is more innovative, etc, there are still only 2 parks there. Disney World, while it hasn't been as innovative, has four theme parks with many above average and some great attractions, many of which have timeless appeal. WDW is still great, they just need some new stuff.
September 23, 2011 at 5:52 PM · 'Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey' is a testament to the extraordinary artistic success of the team at Universal Creative. The broken Yeti is a testament to the extraordinary failure of Walt Disney Imagineering.

The great shame of that condition is that Mr. Disney's name is associated with the second organization listed above.

September 23, 2011 at 5:54 PM · Another area Universal needs to address is their nighttime offerings. Disney have the ability to keep guests in their park, and most importantly spending,late into the night because they have three world-class shows on property with the MK fireworks show (I forget the name), Illuminations and Fantasmic!

Whilst Universal 360 is okay, it's certainly not a crowd draw, and Universal could really do with a new show at the Studios and Islands of Adventure, with the latter potentially using the huge lake (if that's possible) and of course, Hogwarts,

September 23, 2011 at 6:02 PM · And don't get me wrong, Everest is actually still my favorite Orlando coaster even without the yeti because of the fun backwards section and the view. But without the a-mode yeti, the ride can hardly be considered "innovative."
September 23, 2011 at 6:45 PM · Andrew NAILS IT! Along with "Revenge of the Mummy," "Expedition Everest" turns the experience of a coaster into theater. Without the working Yeti, the attraction loses that element and becomes another train demonstrating the laws of physics.

If my name rhymed with WHY-GER, I would give advancced notice via press release that the attraction would be closing on whatever date for the purpose of repairing the attraction so it would meet the standards that the company's namesake demanded.

September 23, 2011 at 7:18 PM · While I would like to see more Potter rides, I think The WWOHP is fine the way it is. Otherwise, Islands of Adventure would just retheme it's whole park to the boy wizard.
September 24, 2011 at 10:01 AM · If I were in charge of UOR, here's what my plan would be. Right around October 1 (Magic Kingdom's 40th) I would announce that Transformers would be coming to Universal Studios Florida. I would build a Sci-Fi City (or possibly Sy Fy city since Universal is affiliated with the network)much like the one that just opened in Singapore and put it in the upper right corner of the park between MIB and The Simpsons (if this is possible, not sure what all that stuff is in there on google earth). I love the look of the land in Singapore, looks great! Clear out that whole corner. I would put Transformers on one end and on the other an indoor Battlestar Galactica dark coaster in the dark. Kind of like Space Mountain but with close brushes with Cylon fighters and great visual F/X like the SPACE ride at Universal Japan. In between you could also have a museum of Sci Fi stuff from movies and TV, like the one for Horror and Make-Up. Put a sci fi themed restaurant as well as the obligatory gift shops. Maybe put a Stargate somewhere for display. MIB could be incorporated as part of Sci Fi city as well. Part two of this plan would be to put a King Kong attraction like the one that just opened in Hollywood except of course make it a much longer ride with extra scenes of Kong fighting giant creatures on Skull Island and we are caught in the middle of it all. Put it where stage 44 is since that has sat empty for years. Redo the whole building. Universal Florida really needs to get Kong back in there. As for IOA, I would wait a few years on expanding WWoHP since it is doing very well still. Expand it when attendance starts to go down. I love the idea of a LOTR land. While I enjoy HP, LOTR is much more special since it has been around for so long. WB also has the rights to LOTR as well as HP. Maybe they could work with Universal to help fund LOTR since the Hobbit movies are coming soon. I apologize for the very long post (please be gentle it's my first time/post) ;). I think Avatar coming to WDW is a great thing for all theme park fans in the Orlando area.
September 24, 2011 at 11:02 AM · I think Universal should bring in Transformers,that would be so cool. WWOHP is already a hit, expand on that another time. Terminator 3D is an awesome ride bring Transformers in the counter-act it and give the fans a new and more up to date ride. Making Universal Studios more interesting to visit too.
September 25, 2011 at 6:44 AM · Bring the TRansformers to Universal Studios...Fill in the gap between HRRR and Mummy..Think the old Goast Busters SHow area...Work on the rest to bring it back up to its former glory. And give guests a whole Day not..the 9-7 except HHH..And MG events..And heres a thought how about a buy one park get another for a few dollors more..on the same day...But no hopping. This will allow guests more time to enjoy and spend well as feed into City Walk in the evening...Im just sayin
September 25, 2011 at 12:10 PM · What should UO do? You mean, after they get up off the floor from laughing so hard they fell out of their chairs?

Avatar? Can I ride a big nasty attack ship and blow up a big tree? That would be a cool ride.

Or they could put us all in little booths with 180-degree imaging, and pretend we were riding a ride while it showed us pictures.

September 25, 2011 at 2:16 PM · How about Universal gets the rights to Cartoon Network and adds the Adventure Time Experience? It could be like Stitch's Great Escape, but with better (and/or less gross) special FX. Say the Ice King comes in and wants to freeze the humans to make them his slaves. He starts zapping ice all around, and each person feels the cold on their seat. Or if Marceline comes, the speakers in the seat could scare the you-know-what out of you. What I'm wondering is if it is a good idea or not.
September 26, 2011 at 8:26 AM · Tolkien disliked Disney's works because he sugar-coated traditional fairy tales in favor of contemporary storytelling. I doubt that a theme park company of any capacity could reproduce Lord of the Rings without butchering its themes, characters, plot, nuances, etc.

I think they should add to Harry Potter. No theme park has produced any high-tech live shows in quite some time - something from Harry Potter in the form of, say, the Triwizard Tournament could potentially be excellent.

September 28, 2011 at 11:46 PM · I think ever since the WWoHP was announced, we all assumed the Tri-Wizard tournament would feature quite heavily. And yes, we have the Rally and the Frog Chorus (Seen it loads but just once I wish the frogs would go BOM, BOM BOM, Sink or swim.... if you dont get the reference, never mind me) but the rally times are not listed on the map and it seems like they come out and do a show whenever the mood takes them.

However, A major night time stunt show featuring the Triwizard Tournament would go down a treat. USO have it them to pull it off (Those of us old enough to remember the Stunt show with the speed boats can attest to this) and it would draw a crowd easily comparable to Fantasmic. Maybe the boffins over at Uni have a 10 year development plan for these issues but one things for sure, given the money they make from that land alone, they will expand it at some point.

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